Tag: Fox Sisters

Inside Magic Review: Spectacle of Illusion


Cover of Book Spectacle of Illusion The Spectacle of Illusion: Deception, Magic and the Paranormal by Matthew L. Tompkins is a book right up our alley.  It travels effortlessly right up our alley, in fact.

This book moves past the garbage cans, feral cats that protect the cans they call home or cafeterias, around the now less-important yellow police tape and chalk outlines of fallen individuals (likely victims of the mean-spirited cats), under the poorly functioning but profusely dripping air conditioning units perched precariously on rotten wooden window sills, up the darkened stairway and to our screen door.

The book was published in association with the exhibition “Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic” held at Wellcome Collection in London between April and September 2019.  It looks like it would have been a great exhibition to attend.  Check out the link to see some of the great offerings.

Here’s our checklist for an entertaining magic-related history book:

  1. Mentions the Fox Sisters, Maggie and Kate. We don’t care if the work includes mention of their older and more exploitive sister, Leah.
  2. Has dramatic images of both séances and the expose of séances.
  3. Mentions Houdini’s importance in the stemming of Spiritualism.
  4. Mentions Ectoplasm – we don’t need to see pictures of it being manifested during or after séances – those make us gag.
  5. Posters, news clippings of either séances or their exposures.

As a bonus, if there is mention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Daniel Dunglas Home, the book is a must for us.

This wonderful book hits all the essential points and the bonus targets.

For those of us obsessed with this part of American and European history, much of the story told in the book is familiar. There were no new bits of information about the characters or their efforts to deceive or to uncover the deception.  In fact, one (probably us) could argue there is a relative dearth of depth in the research revealed here.  We have no doubt the author knows the history but because the book is to accompany an exhibition, it wasn’t intended to be a scholarly journal article.

The lack of depth is acceptable to us considering our knowledge about the history and the inclusion of images we have not before seen.

The book is replete with images – every page has fantastic illustration of the individuals involved – and is broken into five “Acts” and the segmentation fits well with the information provided.  The penultimate chapter tells the story of parapsychological investigators and includes coverage of The Amazing Randi’s work along with Penn & Teller and Banachek, to debunk claims by folks like Uri Geller and Daryl Bem.

The final chapter looks at the psychology of illusion and, unfortunately, reveals some magic secrets that we thought should be kept in the Magic Fraternity’s vest pocket.  How concerned are we about these reveals?  So concerned that we won’t even tell you the tricks involved, lest someone finds them too easily.

Here’s the strange thing, though.  We didn’t order this book or purchase it at a store.  We didn’t even know of its existence.  It showed up in our mail one day.  Spooky, no?  We receive things from magicians looking for reviews but they are usually sent after we at least provide our address (we’re above the shop that makes cakes and biscuits for dogs on Santa Monica Blvd., in West Hollywood but usually the Post Office requires more address information.  Also there are two bakeries for dogs on Santa Monica in WeHo so the need for an address is even more profound.)

So, was it some evidence of spiritual forces that we received this book?  Probably.  We can imagine no other explanation, therefore it must be the spirits.

Inside Magic Review: Five out of Five!

Fox Sisters in the News Again

We have not withheld our admiration for The Fox Sisters as both innovators and debunkers in the past.

True, both Katie and Maggie Fox recanted their recantation of Spiritualism before they died but for a brief, shining moment, they did the right thing.

On the way to the right path, they developed a whole new industry catering to those in sorrow and doubt.  Through their single-handed innovation of the modern seance, they struck gold figuratively and literally in the fearful psyche of the common man or woman.

The three sisters established the ground rules for all who would claim skills in Spiritualism; darkened room, physical contact with the medium, coded responses from beyond, and even physical manifestation of a passed loved-one’s body in part or in whole.

As we head into the Seance Season, it is proper to recall that the three girls from New York who began the practice also sought to end by complete exposure of their methods and motivations.  But it was too late,  common wisdom had already accepted the principles and ritual behind Spiritualism.  Even complete exposure of the methods used to dupe those who now held fast to their conviction that it was real, was insufficient.

Victor Hugo wrote, “An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.”

Apparently that was true whether the idea is based in fact or fiction.

Continue reading “Fox Sisters in the News Again”

Ectospasms: The Fox Sisters in Dance

The Lola Lola Dance Theatre will debut their multi-media dance theatre piece, Ectospasms, as part of the New York International Fringe Festival scheduled for August 14th – 23rd.

Ectospasms is a play on the term coined by spiritualists for a substance allegedly produced by the disembodied, Ectoplasm.

As repulsed as we are by ectoplasm, we are just as attracted to all things related in any way to The Fox Sisters.

In fact, you can read both Houdini’s account of The Fox Sisters and Maggie Fox confession in our Inside Magic Library for free.

Ironically, Maggie, Katie and Leah never produced ectoplasm in their seances.  Like another innovator, Vanilla Ice, they were all about the rapping.  (Although Katie did perform some full-body materialzations later in her career).

We are trying to finagle a way to see the Lola Lola Dance Theatre’s performance.

The teasingly short glimpses of their rehersals shown on YouTube have us hooked.  We don’t know Bob Fosse from Boo-Boo Bear, but we know what we like and the Lola Lola Dance Theatre expression of the sisters’ internal conflict looks dead-on.

The dance is choreographed and directed by Jessica Bonenfant and written by Dr. Edmund B. Lingan – the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Study of Performance and Spirituality.  The theatre’s web site gives a link for the Institute but we weren’t able to hack past the login screen.

Your luck or hacking skills may be better.

The show will be seen in The Robert Moss Theater (Venue Number 6 on the Fringe Map).  Tickets are $15.00 and the show runs about an hour and a quarter.

For more information on the Fringe and a schedule, check out www.fringenyc.org.

Make sure you visit The Lola Lola Dance Theatre for details on their premiere of Ectospasms, and other pieces.  You can find the theatre at:  www.lolalola.org.

A Magician Among the Spirits Available

Margaret Fox Kane - The  Reason for Our Late NightsThis has become a passion and a time-suck all in one.

We started by reading The Reluctant Spiritualist: The Life of Maggie Fox.  That lead to Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism , another take on the Fox Sisters.

We went back to read Houdini’s A Magician Among the Spirits and finally understood some of the passion we previously misinterpreted to be a strident, arrogant tone.

Read in context with the Spiritualism movement, Houdni’s A Magician Among the Spirits is the perfect, logical balance to the incredible claims of spiritualists.

All of this led to our reading Maggie Fox’s The Death Blow to Spiritualism.

While she later recanted her recantation, it is a sombering experience to hear the side of the woman (along with her younger sister, Katie, and older sister, Leah) started Spiritualism and all that it produced.

Now, we find ourselves with an irrational crush on Maggie Fox and an even greater sense of awe of Harry Houdini.

More about this investigation later but for now, check out the downloadable PDF of A Magician Among the Spirits, by Houdini.

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Are Margery and the Fox Sisters Still Living Large?

houdini-and-radio-model(Reprinted from April 12, 2003).

We know that the Jonathan Edward-esque medium has a tepid following.  We thought he was an aberration.

We just assumed there was not a wide-spread support for such bunk.

We were wrong and it is kind of scary how the revisionist pen can keep alive long ago solved mysteries.

The we read of a new literary exhibition: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Beyond Sherlock Holmes, opens this weekend at Chicago’s prestigious Newberry Library.

Sir Arthur’s magazines, artworks, photographs and artifacts have been collected for presentation through July 12.

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What’s New?

Maggie FoxWe are easily distracted from one obsession to another.

We don’t just flit from shiny thing to more shiny thing.  Nay, we focus on some topic — usually obscure and without any real-world value to anyone — and intensify our focus until there is no other stimuli within our view.

That is a good thing for our other profession, proof reading M&Ms, but can be disconcerting for just about every other aspect of our world.

We noticed yesterday that we had not updated Inside Magic with a new story or article since last week.  What were we doing?  How could this happen?

We fell hopelessly in love with a dead woman, Maggie Fox Kane of the famous or infamous Fox Sisters.

We’ll provide our complete review of two recent books on Maggie and her medium sisters, Katie and Leah, later today.

You can read Houdini’s take on the rise of Spiritualism in his fantastic 1924 book, A Magician Among the Spirits.

We uploaded a PDF version of the book complete with our OCR, search functions and hyperlinked cross-references.  Houdini’s book and Maggie Fox Kane’s Death Blow to Spiritualism, are both available at the Inside Magic Library.

Continue reading “What’s New?”